In the late 1970s, not long after the Light Gray F-15 established itself as a dominant force in the air superiority arena, McDonnell Douglas began to explore the idea of an Eaglejet variant designed specifically for interdiction missions. Designers envisioned a jet which harnessed the ability to move mud, but retained the ability to fight other airplanes.
After the Air Force ran its Tactical All-Weather Requirements Study, development work began in earnest on a night and all-weather capable, dual-role platform. In March 1981, the USAF announced the Dual-Role Fighter (DRF) competition as a replacement to the F-111 Aardvark and F-4 Phantom.
Both the F-16XL and F-15E were submitted for evaluation, which ran until April of 1983. Both aircraft performed admirably and were legitimate contenders during the evaluation period. On 24 February 1984, the USAF chose the F-15E and expected to procure nearly 400 examples of the design, which won the day based on its two-engine design and lower development costs.
The first aircraft was delivered to the Air Force in 1988, and just two short years later saw it’s first deployment as part of Operation Desert Shield, followed by its first combat operations during Operation Desert Storm in January and February of 1991. The Dark Gray made a name for itself as a SS-1 “Scud” missile hunter, using the two-pod LANTIRN (Low Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infra-Red for Night) system.
The jets from the 4th Fighter Wing prowled the deserts of Iraq, successfully finding, fixing, and finishing off numerous examples of the surface-to-surface missile which Saddam Hussein utilized in an attempt to terrorize Israel and Saudi Arabia. Two aircraft were downed over the course of Desert Storm, with one aircrew (pilot and WSO) killed, and the other aircrew ultimately captured after successfully evading enemy forces for days.
Given the robust design and successful record of the Strike Eagle in sustained combat operations, several other countries have purchased variants of the jet to add to their own air forces. South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Singapore all have Mud Hen variants, all of which have proven themselves to be stable, reliable workhorses in their respective nations.
With all of that said, we wish the Strike a very “Happy Birthday,” and raise a glass to its continued success and great things planned for the aircraft as its service extends well into the future. Cheers!
(Featured Photo by Scott Wolff)